Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Chapel Hill therapist was nothing if not certain

Nov. 2, 2011

Post on hidden mysteries.org (1995):

Aside from the children and their parents, others are deeply disappointed by the N.C. Supreme Court’s decision not to (overturn) the reversals by the Court of Appeals.

“Superior Court Judge Marsh McLelland, who heard the Little Rascals case the first time, wrote in a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: ‘Your refusal to review the Kelly and Wilson reversals by the Court of Appeals is legally and morally reprehensible.’

“Once more, the Edenton children find themselves as much on trial as their alleged perpetrators, if not more so.”


Letter to the editor of the News & Observer of Raleigh (May 16, 1996):

“As a psychotherapist who treats many child victims and adult survivors of sexual and ritual abuse… I am incredulous that so many people support Robert F. Kelly….

“There is ample historical and anthropological evidence that ritual abuse has existed for centuries…. Unfortunately, day care centers are optimal settings for such perpetrators.

“If there is indeed a ‘witch hunt’ going on, it’s actually aimed at abused children and those who advocate for them.”


Chapel Hill

Letter to the editor of the News & Observer of Raleigh (June 4, 1997):

“Investigators should not ask leading questions, of course, but even if they did it is difficult to imagine how a young child could come up with graphic details of sexual activity if nothing happened. Child sexual abusers and pornographers routinely incorporate fantasy to entice children to cooperate and render them less believable if the child ever tells.

“Why are journalists so quick to believe alleged abusers and discount sexual abuse allegations by children?”


Chapel Hill

Letter to the editor of the News & Observer of Raleigh (January 15, 1999):

“In reality, false allegations of sexual abuse by preschool children are rare.

“I have spent three years researching and editing a book on ritual abuse allegations. Ample evidence supports the existence of such abuse in day care centers, in spite of how bizarre it may sound.

“Robert Kelly was found guilty by a jury of his peers in a lengthy trial. This verdict was overturned only on a technicality.

“Finally, there is obviously significant evidence to charge Kelly in a case unrelated to Little Rascals (charges dropped eight months later). We should consider these facts before concluding that the alleged abuses at Little Rascals were due to a ‘hysteria’ fueled by a ‘rumor mill.’ ”


Chapel Hill

As these comments suggest, certainty in the pervasiveness of ritual abuse extended well beyond those therapists directly involved in the Little Rascals case.

Did Ann Earle, a board member of the International Council on Cultism and Ritual Trauma, ever change her mind? If so, she seems not to have shared the news.

Sex-abuse journalism raises ‘strange question’

120625RabinowitzNov. 9, 2012

“Did I recognize that child sex abuse existed and was a serious problem? reporters would ask. A strange question, that. The discussion of no other crime would require such a disclaimer. Journalists who have written about false murder charges are seldom asked to provide reassurance that they know murder is a bad thing, and it really happens.”

– From “No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusations, False Witness and Other Terrors of Our Times” by Dorothy Rabinowitz  (2003)

Prosecutors learned wrong lesson from McMartin

March 28, 2012

Had North Carolina prosecutors been interested in anything other than racking up convictions, they would’ve given earnest consideration to analyses such as this one in the Los Angeles Times in 1990, barely a week after a jury returned not guilty verdicts in the McMartin Pre-School case:

“Experts across the country say the interview techniques intended to extract the truth from youngsters who attended the Manhattan Beach nursery school were so misguided as to make the children seem coerced, rehearsed and ultimately unbelievable to the jury….

“According to both child development and criminal defense experts who have closely monitored the case for the last six years, some of the adults — the parents, the prosecutors, the therapists — who tried hardest to find out what happened in the first place may have done the most to confuse the case in the end…. Most of the children were never given the chance to simply tell what, if anything, happened to them.

“‘They were never given the opportunity to tell their stories as they knew them, in their own words, until long after their minds had been contaminated with the thoughts and fears of the adults around them,’ said David Raskin, a psychologist at the University of Utah who has been studying child abuse cases for the last 15 years. By then, he said, it was too late.”

Contamination proved every bit as rampant among child-witnesses in the Little Rascals case, but prosecutors had learned from McMartin to conceal it by denying access to verbatim records of therapists’ interviews.

Death noted: Little Rascals judge Marsh McLelland

140705McLellandApril 13, 2015

D. Marsh McLelland, judge in the trials of Little Rascals defendants Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson, died last month in Burlington. He was 94.

This laudatory obituary in the Greensboro News & Record barely mentions the most consequential case in McLelland’s career – “He was brought out of retirement by the state’s chief justice to hear the Little Rascals Day Care child sex abuse case….” – and this one in the Burlington Times-News mentions it not at all.

Had McLelland stayed retired, the prosecution of the Edenton Seven might well have been derailed early on.

The judge originally assigned to the case, L. Bradford Tillery, stepped down under pressure from Deputy Attorney General Bill Hart. Mark Montgomery, Bob Kelly’s appellate attorney, explains why:

“Hart did not like the way Tillery was handling the case.  The final straw was when Tillery ordered Hart to turn over the State’s interviews of those kids who were not the subject of indictments.  He did not order them given to the defense, as he should have done, but Tillery was going to look through them himself.  If he had, he would have seen that most of the kids at the day care, including Hart’s adoptive daughter, had said nothing happened and the jury would have heard about that.

“To prevent that, Hart filed motions accusing Tillery of being biased against the State. Rather than punishing Hart, Tillery took himself out of the case to avoid any appearance of partiality.  Enter McLelland.

“Because Tillery had already ordered the interviews turned over to the court, that was a done deal.  But McLelland never looked at them.  I stumbled across them in the exhibit room of the courthouse and informed the Court of Appeals in my brief.  The failure of the State to turn over to the defense the interviews of kids who said nothing happened was one of the grounds for a new trial for Bob.”

Tillery clearly was stung by Hart’s ploy: “I have served as a judge of Superior Court for over 20 years, and I never found it necessary to take such a step…. Neither have I ever been made to feel before that one side or the other considered me to be not only an adversary but also fair game …. for reckless assertions.”

If only Tillery had responded not by resigning but by sanctioning Hart for withholding evidence.

N.C. justices to Junior Chandler: Drop dead

121005Chandler2Oct. 5, 2012

Because today’s North Carolina Supreme Court decision on Junior Chandler’s appeal comprised three separate parts, I didn’t fully comprehend it.

“Is this good news or bad?” I emailed Mark Montgomery, Junior’s appellate lawyer.

“The worst,” he replied. “We’re out of court.”

Yes, this is the worst – the absolute, inexcusable, shameful worst.

The justices have denied Junior Chandler, probably the last still-imprisoned victim of the multiple-offender, multiple-victim ritual-abuse day-care panic, his final chance for a new trial. After 25 years behind bars – more than all the Little Rascals defendants combined! – he faces only more of the same.

If I were a lawyer, maybe I could understand how the North Carolina Supreme Court arrived at its decision.

How it was unmoved by Junior’s feeble representation early on.

How it was uninterested in the epochal progress made in limiting expert testimony.

How it was all too eager to find petty justifications for validating a prosecution rotten at the core.

But probably not.

Convictions overturned, judge angrily exited

140705McLellandJuly 5, 2014

“The Burlington judge who has presided over the the Little Rascals Day Care Center case since 1990 resigned in disgust the day after the state Supreme Court refused to review (the overturning of) two convictions.

“D. Marsh McLelland, a retired Superior Court judge, said in a letter dated Sept. 8 that the court’s refusal to review the cases ‘is legally and morally reprehensible.’

“McLelland’s letter to Chief Justice Burley Mitchell said the refusal to review a Court of Appeals order for a new trial raised the term technicality to new heights….”

– From “Judge quits Little Rascals case” from the Associated Press (Sept. 22, 1995)

I imagine that the “technicality” comment was from a direct quote, although I haven’t been able to find either McLelland’s original letter or a more substantial account. It’s no wonder he felt humiliated – the Court of Appeals decision had laid bare his indifference to the rights of the defendants.

Regardless, McLelland’s resignation proved irrelevant, as prosecutors decided not to retry Bob Kelly and Dawn Wilson.

View from Edenton: ‘I never considered leaving’

130429Barrow2April 29, 2013

If you watched “The Plea,” the concluding 1997 installment of “Innocence Lost,” you might not expect that Nancy Smith Barrow, Betsy’s sister, would choose to remain in the midst of those townspeople who caused her family such brutal and unjustified pain.

But stay she has, raising a family and participating in community affairs. I talked to her recently about her life then and now.

Why she has continued to live in Edenton:

“I never considered leaving. My parents were here. This is my home. For a long time, I imagined my dad, mom, sister and I would be back here together, after it all unraveled, after people looked behind the curtain and saw the Wizard….”

What Edenton was like for her during the Little Rascals panic:

“I’d walk into a public place and scan the room to see if I would be comfortable there. I never felt any physical threat – that’s not the kind of people they are here…. But I didn’t want my children exposed to such obvious and outward hatred….”

What Edenton is like for her today:

“Once Bob’s verdict was overturned, that was the end of it. Now I go where I want and do what I want….

“Things went very badly for the indicting parents. But they still believe – because they have to believe….

“Some of them I will talk to in the grocery store or at school, but we are not welcome in each others’ homes….

“Our children went to school together, and they finished growing up together (without conflict). It was like when the adults went away, when the adults got tired of playing, the children were left to clean up the game….”

How she looks back at the case:

“My sister (who now lives in Raleigh) has a life we could never have imagined, a wonderfully normal life. Everyone I loved at Little Rascals is free. My children (now 32 and 28) are fine and healthy…. The Little Rascals case was a phenomenon of epic proportions, and we weathered it….”